18 November 2013

Eats: balsamic glazed Brussels sprouts

When I was a kid and I traveled somewhere with my family, my mom had a standing rule for choosing a restaurant: never dine at a place at which we could eat in our own town. Considering my hometown’s restaurant offerings basically began and ended with Hardee’s and Pizza Hut, it wasn’t hard to follow that rule, although it did put the kibosh on a McDonald’s Happy Meal or two on the road.

Somehow, this rule sticks with me to this day. But since I now live in a big city full of chain and independent restaurants that will sell me a bacon milkshake, it’s a little difficult – not to mention silly – to follow the rule as it was first decreed. Instead, it’s been modified to this: whenever I go out to eat, I order something I can’t, or don’t know how to prepare at home.

This new incarnation of the try-something-new rule is also becoming a challenge as I’ve gotten more well-versed in the kitchen over the years. But the upside is, of course, I’m trying foods further and further outside of my comfort zone. Case in point: the Brussels sprouts served on the side of my fancy Thanksgiving-inspiration dinner. I had never tried Brussels sprouts before (I know, I know, but remember, I was raised on a diet of Kraft mac & cheese in a town with only a McDonald’s for fine dining), but in the spirit of the rule, I ordered them. I figured if I was ever going to like them, this fancy, expensive restaurant would be the place to try.

And hey. Guess what. I did! My relatively recent liking for roasted broccoli meant that I was primed and ready to enjoy its close plant relative. And add a bit of sweet balsamic vinegar glaze, which we know is delicious on potatoes? I’m totally game. So of course, I had to figure out how to make it at home, with help from a few online sources, especially this one.

We start with the Brussels sprouts. I didn’t count how many I used, although perhaps I should have (more on that later). You’re welcome to count if you’re more comfortable knowing that sort of thing.

You know, I find it fascinating that when I’m building or crafting something, I make measurements to the sub-millimeter (remember my 1/32-inch marks for my wall stripes?). But in the kitchen, I’m totally content with “some”.

I did have to cut all the sprouts in half exactly the same way, though.

They’re then tossed in olive oil, salted and peppered, and assembled face-down on a greased cookie sheet.

And then roast them at 375 degrees for about thirty minutes. In the meantime, you can make the balsamic-honey glaze! It couldn’t be simpler: balsamic vinegar and honey. For real.

The source recipe used a half-cup of balsamic vinegar and a quarter-cup of honey, but I didn’t bother making that much. I just eyeballed a mixture with two parts vinegar to one part honey.

Then I heated it over medium heat on the stovetop:

Let’s be real, it is virtually impossible to photograph a nearly-black glaze in a nearly-black skillet. I’ll just let you guess what it looks like.

At first, the glaze was quite thin, and the directions said to cook it until it was very thick. So I reduced, and reduced, and reduced, but it still seemed so very thin, even after the stated twenty minutes. Hmmm. Oh well?

Meanwhile, the sprouts were done! A little over-done, but I like the browned caramelized bits of roasted veggies, and the crispy little leaves were a nice touch. You could pull them out a little sooner if you prefer.

Then it’s time to add the glaze! It’s a little hard to see in this photo, but it’s there.

It was also a little hard, period. Remember how I felt like the glaze was super thin, even after a long reduction? Well. I forgot to take into account the fact that honey is runny when warm, and SUPER STICKY THICK when it cools. Like, say, the temperature it is when it’s covering Brussels sprouts. So, unfortunately, the glaze ended up being way too thick to properly stir and coat the sprouts. It also stuck in our teeth as we tried to eat them. Lesson learned: don’t worry about reducing the glaze so much!

On the upside? The sprouts still tasted delicious.

The only other downside was, unfortunately, what I’d feared: sprouts, like broccoli, are in the cabbage family. They’ll be stinky while you roast them, but tolerably so. Still, you’re not going to want to heat up any leftover sprouts in the common break room at work, though. I really should’ve counted the sprouts and made fewer. Don’t make what you can’t eat that night!

So now that we all know Brussels sprouts can be super tasty, how about giving them an appearance at the Thanksgiving table this year? It can be your way to follow the try-something-new rule. And really, anything with a balsamic glaze fits right in with turkey!

That rounds out the last of my Thanksgiving-inspired fancy meal, dear readers! In the end, it was a pretty decent replica of the fancy dinner. My version lacked sweet potatoes and subbed in baked apples for roasted pears, but in the end it was close!

(The sprouts and corn were hiding behind the pork. Clearly, I felt it was more important to capture the wine instead.)

Rather with leaving you with our weekly meal plan (it’s so boring and sad this week, with all the work and preparing for travel), how about you plan a nice bacon-wrapped pork loin with baked apples and these Brussels sprouts, and serve some Trader Joe’s roasted corn on the side? And for dessert... well, ok, we’ll get to that next week!